[Updated 12/2013; Deputy fired, see below]
So this is pretty weird situation stemming from a fatal wreck occurring August 2012. I don’t know how any of this is supposed to work — but it occurs to me that County Attorney Voyles could have sent this to a neutral party (another county) for disposition, and that would have avoided any appearance of impropriety. As it stands, Voyles had a clear conflict-of-interest; and he decided it in favor of his interests. Voyles description of the deputy’s actions (‘patrolling’ at ~ 100mph?) as “an acceptable investigating patrolling activity” is quite bold, and troubling. They don’t call it “criminal speeding” (see 28-701.02) for nothing, well I mean reasonable people call it that, I don’t know how Voyles (or the deputy) rationalizes it. The victim’s (that is to say, the guy that died; the deputy was seriously injured) actions were certainly also negligent — he was very drunk, and made a bad left — but that certainly doesn’t absolve Steele of all responsibility for the collision. In any event, this is going to be very expensive for Pinal county taxpayers.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office won’t prosecute a sheriff’s deputy who was involved in a fatal, on-duty crash last year, despite a recommendation from Arizona Department of Public Safety investigators that he be charged with manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
County Attorney Lando Voyles, who defeated James Walsh last year after a campaign marked by accusations that Walsh didn’t prosecute cases recommended by law enforcement, said Friday that his office “focused on the prospective occurrence, rather than (taking) a hindsight perspective” in deciding whether to charge Deputy Robert Steele in the Aug. 30 (2012, I think) incident.
Voyles ran on a “Law and Order” ticket with Sheriff Paul Babeu.
According to the DPS report, Steele was traveling nearly 100 mph on U.S. 60 when his patrol car collided with a truck that had turned left in front of him at about 9:40 p.m. Jeffrey Sorenson was killed, and Steele was seriously injured. A driver who was 8 months pregnant received minor injuries when she sideswiped the patrol car.
Steele was not responding to a call, his lights and sirens were not activated and investigators determined he never applied his brakes. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Sorenson’s family has filed a $4 million notice of claim with the county.
An analysis revealed Sorenson’s blood-alcohol content was 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08.
“Our review looked at the case from the perspective of an acceptable investigating patrolling activity at the time of the accident and then the results of the accident,” Voyles said in a prepared statement. “We did not look at the results of the accident and then, decide after the tragedy whether the patrolling activity was illegal.
“Based on that view, this office refuses to criminalize the officer’s patrolling activity. It is not clear that if the officer had been traveling at 65 mph that this accident would not have occurred, since there was an impaired driver of more than 3 times the legal limit, who was not wearing a seatbelt.“
December 2013 Updates: Deputy Fired; Lawsuit Filed
http://www.americanownews.com/story/24209947/pinal-deputy-in-deadly-2012-crash-fired-for-dangerous-driving and http://www.americanownews.com/story/21876151/no-charges-in-fatal-crash-involving-pinal-county-deputy
Deputy Steele was fired in late 2013 based on “four separate complaints of unsafe and out of policy on-duty driving”…
Pinal County prosecutor Voyles continues to cling to his assessment that Steele’s driving behavior was normal and accepted practice: “I will not categorize nor criminalize what appears to have been normal and accepted police activity.”. It was formerly established that Steele was traveling at 97mph at the time of impact, and his brakes were not applied. It was revealed in the later reports that Steele had been driving as fast as 113mph within a few minutes of the crash. As a reminder, Deputy Steele was not on any sort of emergency call, and his lights nor siren were activated; he was just out driving around.
It is not too late for Voyles to correct his error and bring criminal charges against the deputy; or at very least send the case for independent review.
The estate of the victim filed a notice of claim against the deputy, and the county for $4million.
In a somewhat unusual occurrence, a former county attorney bluntly disagrees with Voyles, as quoted in cbs5 news story “Longtime Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley disagrees. ‘He’s wrong. He’s just wrong on the law,’ (claiming Steele wasn’t violating any laws while driving 100+ mph) Romley said. Voyles refused to charge Steele because he said the deputy was involved in normal patrol activity”.
Civil Suit Final
in July of 2018 a jury found the in favor of the defendants (the deputy and the County/Sheriff). In that reporting, the plaintiffs said the deputy was driving 113mph.